Sunday, June 13, 1999
By Pritam Bhullar
TO create awareness among school children about the Army, 29 Infantry Division, located in the Northern Sector, ran four "Know your Army" motivational camps last year.
These camps aimed at familiarising the enthusiastic and volunteer children (both boys and girls) from classes VII to X with the Army life. The emphasis during the training was on handling of weapons, firing of .22 rifle, trekking, jungle lore, crew cooking, para-sailing, physical training including clearance of obstacle course and horse riding.
Encouraged by the interest taken by the children in these camps, Maj-Gen P.K. Chhiber, General Officer Commanding (GOC), 29 Infantry Division, hit on a new idea of including 120 children from the militancy-infested areas such as Poonch, Surankote, Rajouri and Doda in the camp of about 200 children, which was run from May 17 to May 23.
So enthused were the children from these areas with the training and care that they received in the camp at Banikhet, near Dalhousie, that a sizeable number among them volunteered to join the Army. It appeared as if they had come out of a shell to a new life that they liked immensely. They not only made many friends in the camp but also came up with fervent requests that more and more children from their areas should be included in the future camps.
"When we go back, we will tell others about the wonders of this training which has infused a spirit of brotherhood and amity among all of us as Indians". This was what most of them told this writer.
Admittedly, this is the best way of inculcating national spirit in the youth to dissuade them from falling into the militants trap.
Encouraged by their response, General Chhiber has decided to run more camps for the children from these areas.
With its one-class combat units, our Army not only fought gallantly in both the world wars and in the three Indo-Pak wars but also proved to be one of the best fighting forces in the world.
After we attained Independence, a strong political lobby started bringing pressure on the Army to change infantry units to a mixed-class composition. This pressure continued to be resisted by the old generals who, based on their war experience, were firmly of the opinion that the mixing of regiments would destroy cohesion in the rank and file, dilute their old traditions and impinge upon their fighting efficiency.
What added acceptability to the mixed-class concept was the Operation Bluestar. No doubt, some jawans in a few units succumbed to emotional trauma. But the main reason for this was that the officers did not prepare them psychologically to withstand the shock.
After having tried out the mixed-class composition in some infantry units for a few years, we have now realised that this hodge-podge will not give us the best results in war. We have, therefore, reverted back to one-class composition.
The primary role of the Army is to fight a war. And for this if jawans in a unit come from the same area, the commonality of their language, customs, traditions and food habits go a long way in binding them together. This instils in them the feeling of oneness and kindles their ego to do or die together to gain personal and collective honour.
Gone are the days when the troops lived in isolation in cantonments totally unaffected by the civilian culture and life-style. Today, both a jawan and his wife are educated and well-informed about what is happening around them. This has injected a feeling in them to live well with all the modern facilities and educate their children in good schools. It is not uncommon for a jawan to have a colour TV, refrigerator, and a scooter these days; a healthy sign that needs to be appreciated.
What is heartening is that the Army authorities are taking due notice of the rising aspirations of the jawan and are making provisions to improve the quality of life of the troops and their families. No wonder then that like the officers institutes, most military stations are making provision for the JCOs and other ranks families institutes.
The Gurj Families Institute (GFI) at Mamun cantonment in Pathankot, as seen the other day, has become a big attraction for the JCOs, and jawans families.
Started in May 1998, the institute has a well-laid out childrens park, a good restaurant, besides video and other indoor games. On an average about 200 families come to the institute in the evening every day.
What is interesting is that the GFI is being managed by the JCOs and NCOs and is maintaining a good standard.
In their discussion with the Adjutant General Army headquarters in April, Brigadier Mohinder Singh and Wing Commander B.S. Mann (both retired), president and general secretary respectively of the Indian Ex-Services League (IESL), New Delhi, brought out that military hospitals admit ex-servicemen for treatment only if beds are available.
No doubt, the official position is this because no extra beds, staff or equipment are authorised to military hospitals for the treatment of ex-servicemen. But in actual practice, military hospitals never refuse admission to them. Admittedly, this arrangement, which does not have the backing of rules, cannot be considered satisfactory.
Several ex-servicemen organisations under the banner of confederation of ex-servicemen had moved the Supreme Court in May for the grant of proper medical facilities to them. This seems to be the only way to remove the government apathy which deprives ex-servicemen of the rights enshrined in Article 21. Incidentally, the Supreme Court judgement of 1997 says, "the government is under a constitutional obligation to provide free health care to its employees, including retired personnel".
It was also discussed with the Adjutant General (Lt-Gen S.S Grewal) that the medical allowance of Rs 100 per month for ex-servicemen was totally inadequate in view of the high cost of medicines. What was further brought out was that civilian pensioners were getting Rs 250 and special hospitals (CGHS) had also been established where they get treatment for all diseases.
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